Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited disease that causes cysts to form in the kidneys. Cysts, which are sacs filled with fluid, grow in the kidneys and cause them to enlarge. 

Children have a 50% chance of developing PKD if one parent carries the gene. If a person has the PKD gene, he or she will have some form of the disease in their lifetime.

There is also a rare form of PKD, called autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease, that affects newborns, infants, and children. This form of PKD can cause death in the first month of life.

Polycystic Kidney Disease Symptoms

There are often no symptoms in the early stages of PKD. Most symptoms appear in middle age.

The first symptom is often pain in the back or side. Other signs of PKD include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination

PKD Treatment

Most treatments for PKD treat your symptoms or prevent complications. Some of these treatment options may include:

  • High blood pressure medication
  • Pain medication
  • Antibiotics in the event of a urinary tract infection
  • Adhere to a low-protein, low-salt diet


Surgery can drain the cysts to relieve pain or remove blockage, infection or bleeding. If your pain is severe, your doctor may need to remove one or both kidneys. This procedure is called a nephrectomy.


More than half of PKD patients develop kidney failure and need dialysis. Dialysis removes wastes from the blood since the kidneys cannot. At this stage, dialysis will be a lifelong requirement unless a kidney transplant from a donor can be done successfully.

Diagnosing PKD

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may order a blood and/or urine test and take images of your bodily structures with:

  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

Ten to 40% of patients with PKD also have an aneurysm in their brain. An aneurysm is a weakness in the wall of a blood vessel. If you are diagnosed with PKD and have a family history of a brain aneurysm, your doctor may advise an arteriogram to detect the presence of an aneurysm.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.